Hearst editor acknowledges New Canaan News still searching for fabricated stories

Ashley Varese does not want to talk about Paresh Jha.

Varese is the editor of the New Canaan News, a small weekly paper owned by Hearst that last week admitted fired staff reporter Jha is one of the worst serial fabricators in recent journalistic history.

The paper’s statement about Jha, published online late Friday afternoon, reported that Jha had fabricated sources and quotes in 25 stories going back a year and a half.

Since putting that brief statement online, no one from the paper or Hearst’s Connecticut operation has spoken publicly.

In the meantime, I turned up evidence that Jha in fact fabricated entire articles — something not mentioned in the paper’s statement to readers — and that other examples of fabricated stories were still online as of this week.

Connecticut-based investigative reporter Teri Buhl, who was fired by a Hearst paper two years ago amid controversial circumstances, has also been covering the story (see here and here).

Hearst’s top editor in Connecticut, David McCumber, hasn’t responded to emails or phone calls.

But Varese picked up the phone earlier today when I called. That resulted in a brief and puzzling conversation.

She reluctantly confirmed they are continuing to search for other examples of Jha’s fabrications, but declined to offer any additional details about how many have turned up or even what I should do if I discover additional suspicious stories.

“Stick to the statement,” she repeatedly told me, referring to the 152-word statement that’s now out of date due to at least one previously unreported offense.

A transcript of our less than two-minute conversation is below.

I also had a similarly brief, pained conversation with James Doody, who edits two of Hearst’s other Connecticut weeklies. Aside from saying that none of Jha’s reporting was reprinted in his papers, he declined to say much else. A transcript of that exchange follows the one with Varese.

Conversation with Ashley Varese

Poynter: I wanted to follow up and check on the status of the searching in Jha’s previous articles to sort of see where the total stands as of now?

Ashley Varese: Right now we can just refer you to the statement on our website, and that’s really all I can say.

Are you still looking in other…

Varese: That’s really all I can say right now.

Are you guys planning to update that [statement] if that’s all you can say right now?

Varese: Um… I’m trying to think [pause]. No, just stick by the statement for now and if anything changes…

I found an example that’s still on your website that looks to have been fabricated. What should I do with that?

[Silence]

Because I know it says in the statement you removed all the ones that were fabricated. So I found one, it looks like it fits pretty much the profile of some of the other fabricated ones. What’s the protocol I should follow with that?

Varese: I would contact, um… Hmmm… No, actually just stick to the statement. That’s really all I can tell ya.

So you don’t actually want to see if it’s fabricated?

Varese: Oh we’re going through, so.

Okay, right. Right. So there are more potentially that may still be online.

Varese: Mmm… [In a much quieter voice] Stick to the statement.

[Normal voice] I gotta go.

[Hangs up]

Conversation with James Doody

Poynter: I have a few questions about the reporter who was fired from the New Canaan News last week for fabrication.

James Doody: All questions are being referred to David McCumber, who is the executive editor of the group. I have no comment.

Okay, I’ve emailed him several times and haven’t heard anything back. Is he providing a comment to people? Is he…

Doody: I do not know that. I am the editor of two other weeklies, I have no involvement in this. And I have no comment.

Right. A lot of his stories ended up in some of the other Hearst papers, did they end up in your papers?

Doody: No, they did not. And I am on deadline right now. I’m afraid I don’t have time to speak with you.

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